The Love of God
Commenting on I John 4:19, which reads “We love him, because he first loved us,” John Wesley wrote “This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any say less...” (Explanatory Notes on the New Testament) This love God has for us is most fully revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ.
In his sermon “God’s Love to Fallen Man,” written in the last decade of his life, Wesley raises a common question: Why did God allow humanity to fall into sin? His answer was that for God to permit the fall would produce “abundantly more good than evil,” enabling persons to be “more holy and happy” both on earth and heaven. The reason is that if humanity had not fallen then there would have been no death of Christ upon the cross.
Wesley understands the reason for the cross to be human sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, the one who satisfies “God’s justice by offering his body and shedding his blood.” (The Principles of a Methodist) Wesley does not consider God a wrathful being but does believe God is angry at sin.
God’s judgement appropriately falls on our hurtful speech, neglect of others, injustice, damaged relationships, making wealth or power our governing desires, despoiling creation itself, and all other things contrary to the love of God. The effect of the cross is to judge that sin while at the same time enabling us to be forgiven and reconciled to God. In this way the cross was, at its heart, an act of divine love for all humanity. Charles Wesley expresses that love in this way:
O Love Divine! What hast thou done!
Th’ immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died.
My Lord, my love is crucified.
Because our love is in response to that love, we then can also love God and one another with a greater depth than was possible for Adam and Eve. Put differently, we can now be restored to the image of God who is love more fully than would be possible prior to the fall because we know God’s love for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. Thus, as Wesley says, we derive an “unspeakable advantage” from the fall. We love because God first loved us, but “the greatest instance of that love had never been given if Adam had not fallen.” (God’s Love to Fallen Man).
Such love exceeds our language to express and can only elicit our awe and gratitude. With Charles Wesley we can only in wonder ask,